Free Range Readers

Nurturing Self Reliant Readers and Writers in K-6 classrooms

September 18, 2017
by mnosal


It’s Monday!

Thanks to Jen Vincent at TeachMentorTexts and Kellee Moye at Unleashing Readers for hosting this great meme.

I cannot say enough about how great it was to be at the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project’s Social Justice Saturday this past weekend. I’m going to gather my notes and post more about the speakers and ideas shared at the event, but today will focus on the amazing opening keynote by Andrea Davis Pinkney and Brian Pinkney, #BooksBuildHope. Andrea called on us to “Wake up and get woke!” She talked about how she learned the difference between “empathy” and “compassion” and said that empathy is the ability to put yourself in the shoes of another, and compassion is empathy plus taking an action.

Andrea talked about what she calls her Page One Pact to her readers. It goes like this (from the first page):

Come with me on this journey ….

Stay with me ….

A few more pages, and you won’t even know you’re in a book…..

I loved her passion for her readers! As she read from a few of her books, she demonstrated how she hooks in a reader from the first page, and how she keeps her reader going in the book. These are some of her books I am re-reading this week:













Andrea talked about integrating words and images when teaching with her books. She also mentioned that, coinciding with the Birmingham church bombing in 1963, Ezra Jack Keats The Snowy Day, with “brown sugar boy Peter” was making its way into the hands of children all over. #BooksBuildHope.

Brian talked about “hands as the messengers of the heart.” This theme is present in many of his books. In Max Found Two Sticks, Scholastic notes that “Max’s quiet introspection turns into an exuberant celebration of the world around him.” This book is from 1994, and I did not know it. It is a beautiful story, told in words and illustrations.,204,203,200_.jpg

There is so much more to share, but I need to get to school, so more later. Happy Reading!

August 21, 2017
by mnosal

It’s Monday! I’m Reading About The Great Migration

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading?

 It’s Monday…. here’s what I’m reading this week.

Thanks to Jen Vincent at TeachMentorTexts and Kellee Moye at Unleashing Readers for hosting this meme.

The past few weeks have brought a lot of necessary conversations about issues of race and history into the teaching community. It’s so important for us to understand the real history of our country, to understand from multiple perspectives, and to listen —- really listen —- to learn, and to be ready to change.

I was listening to one of my favorite journalist/authors, Isabel Wilkerson, on the events in Charlottesville, talking about people’s responses to her incredible book, The Warmth of Other Suns.

If you haven’t read this book, you need to. It changed my understanding of so much of what I thought I knew about our country. Wilkerson talked about how many people contact her after reading her book to tell her they never knew about the Great Migration. It’s not taught well in most history classes, but it is a phenomenon that has had a profound impact on our country. I will end this post with a companion book that is also important reading. Wilkerson got the title from Richard Wright:

“I was leaving the South
to fling myself into the unknown . . .
I was taking a part of the South
to transplant in alien soil,
to see if it could grow differently,
if it could drink of new and cool rains,
bend in strange winds,
respond to the warmth of other suns
and, perhaps, to bloom”

With this in mind, I started to think about children’s books that address the topic, so what I’m reading today falls under the umbrella of the Great Migration.

First up:

This Is the Rope, by Jacqueline Woodson with illustrations by James Ransom. In a New York Times review of family stories, Valerie Steiker writes:

In “This Is the Rope,” the Newbery Honor winner Jacqueline Woodson uses a common household item to reflect one family’s experience of the Great Migration. “This is the rope my grandmother found beneath an old tree a long time ago back home in South Carolina,” the young narrator recounts. “This is the rope my grandmother skipped under the shade of a sweet-smelling pine.” Spare and evocative as a poem, Woodson’s refrain winds through the book, fastening us to the comfort of memories and the strength of family ties.

This Is the Rope is lovely as a mentor text for teaching family stories, memoir, and personal narrative. The generational context provides inspiration for lots of storytelling.


The Great Migration: Journey to the North, by Eloise Greenfield, illustrated by Jan Spivey Gilchrist. Of the book, Zinn Education says,

Here is a picture book that introduces the historic story of the Great Migration to young readers. Eloise Greenfield, one of the most important children’s book writers of the last 40 years, wrote about her family migration from Parmele, North Carolina to Washington, DC in Childtimes: A Three Generation Memoir for upper elementary school….

For everyone who was gripped by Isabel Wilkerson’s Warmth of Other Suns, you will be moved once again as you read Greenfield and Gilchrist’s story of the journey that transformed the lives of so many people and so many cities in this country.

This is a great addition to any classroom library. Who doesn’t love Eloise Greenfield, and this book is very accessible to a range of elementary grades and beyond.

Another beautiful book to add to this text set is:

The Great Migration: An American Story by Jacob Lawrence. From goodreads:

This critically acclaimed picture book suitable for a wide range of readers chronicles the Great Migration—the diaspora of African Americans who headed to the North after WWI—through the iconic paintings and words of renowned artist Jacob Lawrence. The New York Times praised it as “a compassionate and sensitive portrayal of history.”

Lawrence was just 23 years old when he painted his acclaimed Migration Series, striking tempera paintings evocative of the enormity of the migration. Children are captivated by the images in this book, and it is a great source for writing and discussion.

The Warmth of Other Suns taught me about events important to my understanding of the development of cities in the northern states. Another book, recently published, that is helping me better understand the way things developed and got us to where we are now is from Richard Rothstein, The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America.,204,203,200_.jpg

From goodreads:

In The Color of Law (published by Liveright in May 2017), Richard Rothstein argues with exacting precision and fascinating insight how segregation in America—the incessant kind that continues to dog our major cities and has contributed to so much recent social strife—is the byproduct of explicit government policies at the local, state, and federal levels.

So much is explained through these (very wrong) government policies. It was a feature, not a bug.

Well, that’s what I’m reading right now!






August 7, 2017
by mnosal

It’s Monday! I’m Reading ……

It’s Monday!

Thanks to Jen Vincent at TeachMentorTexts and Kellee Moye at Unleashing Readers for hosting this meme.

While listening to the radio this week, I learned about a poet whose work I was unfamiliar with. He is Bao Phi, and you can hear the feature on NPR’s Code Switch  here. I was really taken by the interview and his life story. He reminds me that we have still so much work to do when it comes to diversity in children’s literature (although he is not considered a children’s author). Grace Lin and the late, great Walter Dean Myers remind us to think of books as both “windows and mirrors” selecting books for our children. It’s an ongoing and worthy process, and we need to keep growing the conversation, with our teaching communities, and groups such as We Need Diverse Books.

Bao Phi does have a children’s book recently published, A Different Pond.

Image result for a different pond

Here is the summary, from NPR:

As a young boy, Bao Phi awoke early, hours before his father’s long workday began, to fish on the shores of a small pond in Minneapolis. Unlike many other anglers, Bao and his father fished for food, not recreation. Between hope-filled casts, Bao’s father told him about a different pond in their homeland of Vietnam.

Bao Phi said he wrote this book, based on his own childhood, for his 7 year old daughter in response to a dearth of children’s literature about Asian Americans, in particular Asian Americans who are not East Asian. I love the way this book addresses important issues with honesty, love, and hope. I am so glad that I happened to turn on the radio at the exact time that his interview was aired, and I invite you to listen to and learn about Bao Phi!


August 22, 2016
by mnosal

Tackling Tough Topics With Our Elementary Students


This Monday, I’m reading Towers Falling, by Jewell Parker Rhodes. The book centers on fifth grader Deja, and her classmates Ben and Sabeen. Their teacher has decided to assign a project that requires the students to learn about September 11 and the Twin Towers. As stated on the cover flap, Jewell Parker Rhodes tells a story of resilience, hope, and finding yourself in a complicated world.”

Deja’s life is complicated. She lives with her family in a homeless shelter. She’s trying to negotiate her home life with her life on a new school that is very different from schools she has attended in the past. The book offers lots of opportunities to teach topics that can be hard to talk about in the classroom. Because of this, the book is an excellent choice as an anchor book in a text set. In fact, if you want great suggestions, check out Book Whisperer Donalyn Miller’s terrific post on Nerdy Book Club. She offers a great range of fiction, non-fiction, and picture books. A favorite picture book of mine is included: Fireboat: The Heroic Adventures of the John J. Harvey, by Maira Kalman. I am a longtime fan of Maira Kalman, and this book is deceptively simple. It is actually great for upper elementary students, as well as younger children, as a springboard for talking about this difficult event.

As a teacher, I struggled with ways to talk about 9/11 with students who weren’t even born when this event took place. I absolutely wanted to steer clear of any type of sensationalism and tried to think about reasons why it would be important to address with 5th graders.  Jewell Parker Rhodes helps make sense of things with Towers Falling by helping children understand many changes in our world since 9/11. Here is a quote from Deja at the end of the book:

“School didn’t teach me everything about 9/11. Still, I understand a lot more now. I understand some of the enormous hurt to families, my family, and country.”

If I were going to add to Donalyn Miller’s list of teaching resources for 9/11, here are some texts I would add:

Messages to Ground Zero by Shelley Harwayne.

An excerpt from the National Writing Project provides information:

In the introduction to this anthology, Harwayne writes:

“On the morning of September 11th, 2001 many of our New York City students saw, heard, smelled, and felt things that none of the grown-ups were prepared to explain. Our students, as well as students throughout our country picked up their pens, pencils, crayons, markers, and paintbrushes and attempted to make sense of this most incomprehensible of acts. Our children attempted to use their words and their art to wrap their arms around the tragedy that befell families in the New York metropolitan area as well as residents of Washington and Pennsylvania….Our children also used their writing and art to offer condolence, comfort others, and of course, bear witness.”

I also would include an essay written by self-described Arab American poet Naomi Shihab Nye, entitled

To Any Would-Be Terrorists.

The current climate in our country as we head into our presidential election is filled with fear and hate. It’s a very hard world to navigate these days, and it is good to know that there are books and authors who can help us help children make sense of the senseless….or at least try. I will end with a poem by Naomi Shihab Nye that I would also include in the early days of the school year, called Kindness, as well as a poem by Mattie Stepanek that follows:


Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.

To read the rest of the poem, find it here at The Writer’s Almanac.

Finally, a beautiful poem for young children:

For Our World by Mattie Stepanek:

For Our World

We need to stop.
Just stop.
Stop for a moment.
Before anybody
Says or does anything
That may hurt anyone else.

Read the rest here.

Have a great week!


August 16, 2015
by mnosal

Words to Live By

It's Monday, What Are You Reading?

Spread the Wealth of Books!

Thanks again to Jen over at Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee at Unleashing Readers for hosting IMWAYR?

Lots and lots of thinking around books this time of year (especially) and I read a great post over at Two Writing Teachers that made me think a lot about the words that we use  and share and give importance to in our classrooms. Words matter, and intentionality with our words matters.

I do a lot of work with my students around quotes, and this year we will hold this book very close to us as we travel the school year together: 365 Days of Wonder: Mr. Browne’s Book of Precepts, by RJ Palacio.



One of my favorite things about Wonder, by RJ Palacio, was Mr. Browne’s precepts — principles to live by. From goodreads:

In the #1 New York Times bestselling novel Wonder, readers were introduced to memorable English teacher Mr. Browne and his love of precepts. Simply put, precepts are principles to live by, and Mr. Browne has compiled 365 of them—one for each day of the year—drawn from popular songs to children’s books to inscriptions on Egyptian tombstones to fortune cookies. His selections celebrate kindness, hopefulness, the goodness of human beings, the strength of people’s hearts, and the power of people’s wills. Interspersed with the precepts are letters and emails from characters who appeared in Wonder. Readers hear from Summer, Jack, Charlotte, Julian, and Amos.

There’s something for everyone here, with words of wisdom from such noteworthy people as Anne Frank, Martin Luther King Jr., Confucius, Goethe, Sappho—and over 100 readers of Wonder who sent R. J. Palacio their own precepts.

I started to introduce daily precepts from the book during Morning Meeting or Closing Circle, and the class would have strong conversations about the meaning and the relevance of the different precepts. We started to collect our own, too, such as:

Maya Angelou

Maya Angelou

I like the idea of choosing a few to focus on long term, across the year, and then picking up our book, 365 Days of Wonder, for daily inspiration. I am thinking of keeping the ones the students collect in a separate notebook. At any rate, I am excited to start the year with 365 Days of Wonder!

Here is the precept for today, August 17 (from the book):

The things that make me different are the things that make ME. Piglet (A. A. Milne)


Have a great week! 😉


August 10, 2015
by mnosal

Picture Book 10 for 10



So, I am going to add to my September Read Aloud choices and list the 10 picture books that I am most excited to read this year……. this is a dynamic list that is growing and changing every day, but these are some of my favorite fiction PBs:

7692533 22747809 541486 3118349310385-110608466365827234322521973-1150217-1Most importantly, some of my favorite authors are represented in this collection!

August 10, 2015
by mnosal

Summer Reading Continued

It's Monday, What Are You Reading?

It’s Monday, What Are You Reading?

It’s Monday, and that means it’s time to check in with Jen from Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee and Rickie from Unleashing Readers. Thank you, as always, for hosting!

Into the dog days of summer, and nothing’s better than a book and a shady reading spot. After reading a post over at Stacked on committing to diversity, I am making a more conscious effort to include more diverse authors on my “to read” list, as well as authors who are new to me. The book I am reading is co-authored by Silas House and Neela Vaswani and I’m smitten with both.

Same Sun Here is the story of Meena, an immigrant Indian girl living in NYC, who is pen pals with River,



who is a coal miner’s son living in Kentucky. The story is told through their letters exchanged back and forth, each character penned by a separate author. Their friendship deepens as they learn more about one another and discover likenesses and differences “under the same sun.” They are both open and honest in their explorations of each other and they get to know themselves better.

This book addresses friendship, immigration, activism, and bravery. Readers in upper elementary and middle school will enjoy the characters and the letters feel “real.” Vaswani and House create believable characters with whom you can imagine befriending. I especially connected with Meena’s comment to River that her favorite book, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, is not “girly.”

Another book that is going to be on my historical fiction shelf this year is Stella By Starlight by the fabulous Sharon Draper.



The story is set during the Depression, and tackles segregation, prejudice, and bravery. Readers will like Stella’s feisty nature and her hopefulness. I appreciate how Draper takes challenging subject matter and makes it accessible for her upper elementary/early middle school readers. You will love this book!

On another note….

OK….now I am going to share a sneak preview from an author whose work is universal in appeal. As a 5th grade teacher, Kate DiCamillo is one of the most perfect authors for this age group. She gets 10 and 11 year olds, and now I know why:


On the back of a “sneak peak” (thank you, Candlewick Educator’s Tea) of her next book (coming April 2016!!) she is quoted:

I think that I am a ten – or- eleven – year- old at heart … I’m always writing towards the child that I was and that I am — that brokenhearted, wondering, hopeful kid. — Kate DiCamillo

I cannot wait to meet Raymie, the protagonist of her newest book…..but I will have to. Sigh.  😉

July 27, 2015
by mnosal

Thinking About Read Alouds

It's Monday, What Are You Reading?

It’s Monday, What Are You Reading?

It’s Monday and it’s the end of July. I am not ready for August, but I am seeking books that I will read aloud during the first few weeks of school. The Read Aloud time is my favorite time of the school day, and I never miss it. Even if I can only squeeze in 10 minutes, I am relentless when it comes to my Read Aloud time. For me, Read Aloud is the heartbeat of my classroom. It is the time when we are close together, listening to a book, talking about the book, and growing big ideas from the book together. Sometimes a colleague will say to me, “How do you find time to read aloud every day?” My response is always the same…. “How can you NOT find time to read aloud every day?” This school year, I am going to try harder to document our read alouds for my oft neglected blog. Fingers crossed!

This past week, I have been reading through books that I am considering early on. Two books that I will read in service of building community are What Does It Mean To Be Present? by Rana DiOrio and A Handful of Quiet: Happiness in Four Pebbles, by Thich Nhat Hahn. Both stories open up possibilities for discussing appreciation and gratitude, values that are important to me in the classroom and beyond. Another book that I am going to use across the year is 365 Days of Wonder: Mr. Browne’s Precepts, by RJ Palacio. This book is a treasure trove of precepts (rules to live by)that provide much food for daily thoughtful discussions. I started dipping into this book at the end of the past school year and the students really enjoyed our daily discussions. I found these good as part of Morning Meeting or Closing Circle. Happy Reading!

January 6, 2014
by mnosal

It’s Monday, What Are You Reading?

It's Monday, What Are You Reading?

It’s Monday, What Are You Reading?

The Joy of Planning, by Franki Sibberson, which fits with my #nerdlution of refining my planning this year! I am a person who likes structure, and I always gravitate toward cycles in planning. This is a nifty, efficient little gem of a resource, and provokes good thoughts about joyful planning. Check it out if you haven’t already, or revisit it if you have it!


And for my children’s lit,

                                      Wangari’s Trees of Peace

Wangari's Trees of Peace

I am re-reading everything by Jeanette Winter these days. There is real beauty in the simplicity with which she writes about and illustrates the life stories of incredible people whose small acts of kindness and/or genius have made a strong and positive impact on large groups of people. I share her books with my students and their families, and am always touched by the responses I receive. Thank you, Jeanette Winter!


December 30, 2013
by mnosal

It’s Monday, What Are You Reading?

It's Monday, What Are You Reading?

Just getting started and hoping to include books from children’s picture books and novels to professional texts. I am currently reading:

This great professional resource is giving me plenty to think about for my shared reading work. I love the practicality and the fun of the ideas Chris and Kate put forward. It’s always great when you can internalize a structure, and for me, the way that I can organize my teaching around lenses, and then move from lenses to patterns and into deeper understanding really makes sense. I love professional books that inspire and get me excited to teach, and this is one of those books!

I also recently returned to an old favorite, Childtimes, by Eloise Greenfield


I love using this book as a source for short, thought provoking pieces. This past month, my 5th graders and I enjoyed celebrating Eloise Greenfield’s work as an author.

Two books “on deck” for reading this week are

9780062015051 and  243_NavigatingEarly

Happy Reading!



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